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'Where they can stick their hate'

Ramat Gan, Israel, 10 July 2005 | Religious and cultural solidarity remain organizing principles of the Maccabiah Games, ready for a 17th staging beginning Monday.

Hoarding for the second Maccabiah Games in 1935, illustrating the Zionist ideal of Muskeljudentum.
More than 7,000 participants from 55 nations will descend—China is a first-time entrant—to compete in 32 events, including football and futsal in men's, women's, youth and masters' divisions. Origins of the competition date to creation in 1895 of the first all-Jewish Maccabi Gymnastics club in Constantinople (Carin Davis, "Let the Games Begin," Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, 8 July), three years before Max Nordau's seminal address to the second Zionist Congress on 28 August 1898. Nordau said Zionism would reawaken Judaism "through the rejuvenation of the ideals of the Volk and . . . through the physical rearing of one's offspring, in order to create a lost muscle Jewry [Muskeljudenthum] once again" (Todd Samuel Presner,'Clear Heads, Solid Stomachs, and Hard Muscles': Max Nordau and the Aesthetics of Jewish Regeneration," Modernism/Modernity 10, no. 2 [2003]: 269–96). The Games themselves started in 1932 in the British-administered Palestine. Even though the modern athletes are united in their Jewishness, there are untold distinctions in practice: some are Orthodox, some not bar mitzvahed. "It's really not a topic of discussion, where you come from or how Jewish you are," says junior soccer player Kasey Hirsty of Fort Wayne, Indiana (Justin A. Cohn, "Local Family Off to Israel for Jewish World Games," The Journal Gazette, 5 July). "We all have some Jewish in us and that's why we're here." The number of athletes has mushroomed after down years in 1997 and 2001. The collapse of a temporary support bridge during opening ceremonies in Ramat Gan in '97 killed four Australians and injured more than 70; the Palestinian uprising in '01 limited participation to 2,200. Football competition takes place in Haifa and is well-regarded. Past competitors include U.S. international Jeff Agoos. "I wish that the competition was on U.S. TV," says U.S. women's forward Yael Chotzen, a real-estate broker in Los Angeles. "It would show that Israel is about more than conflict, violence and struggles with our neighbors."

When to play, when to stand

East Rutherford, N.J., and Tel Aviv, Israel, 2 June 2005 | The case of the wheel within the wheel as acting

He is governor, and he is acting.
New Jersey Gov. Richard J. Codey (right) protests the supposed oversight preceding the 31 May England–Colombia friendly at Giants Stadium. Codey's beef? That the national anthem of the United States was not played along with those of the competing nations (Rudy Larini, "O Say, They Won't Sing: U.S. Anthem Snubbed," Newark Star-Ledger). "I was shocked, absolutely shocked," Codey said. Our first reaction was to wonder how anyone could be so stupid. Protocol at World Cups and Olympics clearly is not to play the host anthem at every fixture: how tedious would that be? Yet others suggested complex motives on Codey's part: namely, tweaking a rival, George Zoffinger, chief executive of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. Codey has said he would "reinvigorate" the authority and had Zoffinger scrambling after the exhibition to explain the alleged snafu. English authorities, the BBC—which was broadcasting the game to the U.K. and allegedly was concerned about running over time—and Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber all were pulled into the debate.

Events in Israel also have demonstrated the potent combination represented by national song and sport. A competitor on a Channel 2 television reality program, Wanted: A Leader, claimed judges denied her the top prize for failing what Ha'aretz calls "the most basic Israeli test"—standing during playing of "Hatikva" before a football match (Alon Hadar, "She Says She Wants a Revolution," 26 May). Abir Kobati of Nazareth, spokeswoman for the Mossawa Center, an Arab advocacy group, said judges focused on the anthem incident rather than her plans for using prize money to advance the cause of Arab businesswomen. One of the judges, according to Kobati, asked "if I stood during the siren on Holocaust Memorial Day and I answered that I slept. Her face was full of hatred. Then she asked me if I stand for the siren on the Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers. I said, 'No,' and she said that we have a problem here."

Update: The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has been entertaining proposals to make words to the national anthem more inclusive of non-Jewish residents (Shahar Ilan, "MKs Hear Proposals on Changing Lyrics to National Anthem," Ha'aretz, 7 July). Especially problematic for Arabs is the lyric "the soul of a Jew yearns," which MK Reshef Chayne suggests changing to "the soul of an Israeli yearns." Other suggestions include adding a supplementary, faith-neutral anthem or tacking a verse in Arabic onto "Hatikva." The head of the Likud faction told the committee that any changes would compromise the state's identity. The current version of the anthem was legalized in November 2004.

See more pictures of the team in Jordan
Waving the FIFA banner are members of the Bethlehem University women's side at the recent Arab women's football championship. (Bethlehem University)
Like Ruth, gleaning what they can

Bethlehem, West Bank, Occupied Territories, April 17 | Courage among locals and expertise from abroad have made women's football in Bethlehem come to life. On the initiative of two Bethlehem University students, Honey Thaljieh and Shatha Bannoura, a team formed in 2003. For lack of full-sized pitches they train on concrete. But women's soccer in the area has been boosted by England's Football Association, which has funded developmental teams and training. The side can only wear shorts on the training ground and must negotiate security barriers en route to tournaments. While many men have been supportive, according to the FA's Vicky Wayman, there are cultural impediments. "[I]n the Arab world you don't see too many women above the age of 22 or so playing football," says university athletics director Samar Araj Mousa (see Annette Young, "Bethlehem Bends It Like Beckham," Scotland on Sunday). "Once they finish university and are engaged to be married, there is enormous pressure for them to give up the sport."

Loved by Jews and Arabs

Sakhnin, Israel, 15 April 2005 | Bnei Sakhnin, winner of last season's Israel State Cup (see 18 May 2004 entry below), now stand 10th in the Israeli Premier League following a 4–0 loss this evening to
Link to Jerusalem Post profile
Abas Suan says that building a stadium in Sakhnin will help Jewish–Arab coexistence in Galilee. (Ofer Ronen-Abels | Jerusalem Post)
last-place Hapoel Haifa. Like his team, captain Abas Suan—an Israeli Arab—has endured ups and downs: scoring a vital equalizing goal for Israel in a World Cup qualifier on 26 March, then, in his next club match, seeing a banner unfurled by fans of Jews-only club Betar Jerusalem, "You don't represent us, Abas Suan" (see Gabriele Marcotti, "Peacemakers Edge Closer to Their Goal," The Times [U.K.], 11 April). Betar was fined 10,000 shekels, or less than $2,500, for the incident. For Suan, 29, a devout Muslim, the goal against Ireland was his first in an Israel uniform; he now has six international appearances. Marcotti's article contrasted two feelings: (1) some of the hopes that Suan and the Arab players on Israel's roster inspire for reconciliation and (2) overly optimistic views of sport's ability to make peace and other off-base interpretations. For example, fundamentalist Christians in the United States looked on the events related to Suan's goal as a Christ-inspired Eastertime miracle. Yet Arabs on the Israel side still resent having to join in Hatikva, the Israel national anthem. For his part, Suan says he would like to see more government resources directed toward his native Galilee. As Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of Parliament, said to Israeli newspaper columnist Ben Caspit after another Arab player equalized against France on 30 March: "No Arabs, no goals. Perhaps the time has come to install sewage infrastructure in our unrecognised villages" (Inigo Gilmore, "Arab Players Hailed as Heroes in Israel's World Cup Campaign," Daily Telegraph, 3 April).

Update: Despite going undefeated in its qualifying group, Israel failed to advance to the World Cup finals. In a 4,500-word article in Sports Illustrated ("Stars of David," 29 August), Grant Wahl contrasts the attitudes of the national side's two regular Arab players, Suan and Walid Badir. Badir's grandfather was murdered by Israeli police in the 1956 massacre at Kafr Kassem; Badir, however, prefers not to speak of the symbolic value of Arabs on the Israel team. The article also speculates on the possibility of a protest from Suan and Badir should Israel qualify, à la the black-gloved medal-stand salute from American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympic Games. Tamir Sorek, a Cornell sociology professor, thinks it unlikely: "The Arabs in Israel very rarely use sports as a stage for national protest. For many of the Arab fans there are enough spheres of conflict for Arabs and Jews in Israel, and they want to keep the soccer sphere isolated from these conflicts."

Scribal error embarrasses Israelis

Jerusalem, 10 February 2005 | We have seen this transposition before: the quasi-Freudian typing glitch
Click for more detials
Making the case for spell-check. (Jerusalem Post)
that renders the nation Israel as "Isreal." But we had not seen the mistake made in such a large font. Frankie Sachs of the Jerusalem Post takes the Israel Football Association to task for inscribing the error on VIP and press tickets for Wednesday's friendly against Croatia—the first international fixture in Jerusalem in six years ("A Capital Embarrassment"). The match at Teddy Stadium, named after long-serving mayor Teddy (Theodor) Kollek, was also marred by a balky public-address system that delayed playing of the national anthems until halftime and, more seriously, by booing of Arab-Israeli player Abas Suan (see above). "I'm ashamed," said Suan. "But these people will not break me." Israel, despite the various snafus, battled for a 3–3 draw. The Post's Sachs concludes: "If the athletes can manage a respectable draw from the bigger Croatians, the team's management should spell the name of the country correctly."

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'Synagogue or Soccer,' a Parable for the Times

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" (Mark 2:23–24, NRSV)

At Erev Rosh Hashanah, evening of the Jewish New Year, one can imagine UEFA as a Pharisaic body, having posed the question to Jewish fans of Maccabi Tel Aviv whether one should pray or enjoy the secular delights of the first Champions League match on Israeli soil. As we type, the team from

Children play ball at the site where Israel started building its separation barrier in the outskirts of the West Bank village of Biddu, north of Jerusalem. (AP, June 2004)
Tel Aviv plays the German giants Bayern Munich, after much maneuvering over whether the match could go forward on the eve of the two-day holiday to commemorate creation. Parties petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop the game on the grounds that it undermined Jewish values; the three-judge panel said it had no jurisdiction ("High Court: Maccabi TA–Bayern Game outside Our Jurisdiction," Reuters, 13 September). Matchtime was also in dispute, until the continental body and Maccabi officials agreed on the original 9:45 p.m. local start, in line with the rest of the pan-European fixture list and perhaps more convenient for those leaving the challah at their dining tables. "You can all arrive with a full stomach and enjoy a fantastic occasion," said Maccabi manager Nir Klinger (Ofer Ronen-Abels, "Mac TA Set to Make History," The Jerusalem Post).

UEFA finds itself in an odd spot, having set the fixture date; yet, in its refusal to change the date, it also poses the Pharisaic question, asked by UEFA spokesman William Gaillard:

We cannot accept when everyone starts using national, religious, or political holidays as an argument for rescheduling matches. Every club which takes part in the competition of the Champions League knows the dates one year in advance. So now the people in Israel have to decide between synagogue and football. (Ronen-Abels, "UEFA to Maccabi Tel Aviv: Either Synagogue or Soccer," The Jerusalem Post, 2 September)

In the end, Maccabi Tel Aviv vice-president Eli Driks did not appear overly upset by the outcome, or at least by the implications for religious observance. While pointing out that Israeli teams regularly play on the sabbath, he nevertheless lamented the increased costs for security and stewards that a holiday match would entail. (Yet see reports of the side's supposed reliance on Rabbi Shlomo Ifergan, "the X-ray"; Asher Goldberg, "When in Doubt, Ask Rabbi X-Ray," Ha'aretz, 22 July.)

"The X-ray may not know much about soccer, but he doesn't have to," says Maccabi Herzliya chairman Ariel Scheiman.
For Bayern's part, CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge supported the move to an earlier date. "From what I was told," Rummenigge said, " the stadium will be sold out, but if we would have had to host a match on Christmas Eve, I am certain we wouldn't have been able to fill up our stadium." Bayern president Franz Beckenbauer suggested the side visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, although the trip was ruled out due to time constraints. The Germans could not remain untainted, however, as questions arose over the absence of striker Vahid Hashemian of Iran. Ha'aretz said Hashemian would not make the trip due to "a supposed injury" ("Mac. TA Confident as Injury and Politics Plague Bayern," 14 September), implying that the real reason was the Iranian ban on citizens traveling to Israel. An Iranian judoka had refused to compete against an Israeli in the Athens Olympics.

As we consider the meanings of the sometimes inscrutable teacher from Galilee, to continue the thought above—"The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27)—perhaps the holiday's more savory dish involves Galilee's own Bnei Sakhnin (see 18 May gleanings entry below). The Sakhninites tomorrow continue their long-shot UEFA Cup bid with a third-round match against Newcastle United on Tyneside. In doing so, they are proving an object lesson in Arab-Israeli coexistence—the team is a multicultural blend of Jews and Arab citizens of Israel, with several from other nations—while also serving as a reminder of lamentable living conditions in some Arab communities. In order to get to the Sakhnin training ground, writes one correspondent, one moves "along a rutted dirt track, past a fetid sewage lake and an overflowing rubbish dump laden with the carcasses of dogs" (Robert Tait, "From across the Divide, a United Team Offers Hope for the Middle East," The Independent [U.K.]). The sobering assessment of Jafar Farah of the Mossawa Center in Haifa: "The reality is that there is no co-existence in this state."

Promotion, a Cup, a 'Bridge to Peace'
A side from lower Galilee—a side blending cultures and religions—achieved a historic result in winning the Israel State Cup. In its 4–1 victory over Hapoel Haifa,

Bnei Sakhnin players lift the cup. (AP)
Bnei Sakhnin capped an ascent from Israel's third division but, more important, became the first team from the country's Arab sector to win a national championship. The club lacks a stadium and a fully professional infrastructure, but now enters the qualifying stages of the UEFA Cup. And, soon after its victory, the club chairman accepted a congratulatory call from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promising stadium funding.

Sakhnin's previous notoriety stemmed from an incident in 1976 in which six Arabs were killed during demonstrations against land confiscations in Galilee. The day, 30 March, is known as Land Day. Indeed, residents speak of a "Sakhnin character." "Sakhninites are considered hard headed and proud," reads a post-match account in Ha'aretz (Yoav Goren, "Like Setting Fire to a Tank with a Lighter," 20 May). "Yesterday [19 May], people recalled the events of Land Day in 1976, when one Abu Farag tried to set fire to an Israeli tank with a lighter. It's a bit difficult to set fire to a tank with a lighter, but then again, who would have imagined that without a home ground and without resources a team that only a few years ago was playing in the third division would be in the Premier League and win the State Cup."

Sakhnin's team is composed of 12 Israeli Arabs, 7 Israeli Jews and 4 foreign players. The feel-good spirit and integrative potential of football even overcame, for an evening, the nearly concurrent bloodshed in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, in which 19 Palestinians were killed (Alan Cowell, "Israeli Arabs Exulting in a Rare Triumph," New York Times, 20 May). "I was feeling ambivalent to go or not to go because of Rafah," Ahmed Tibi, an Arab legislator in Israel's Parliament, told the Times. "Two or three hours before the game, I was still trying to arrange an ambulance to collect the bodies of an 11-year-old and a 15-year-old shot dead. . . . We are trying to live our lives despite the blood. It's trying to be normal when life is not."

Ha'aretz editorialized the weekend following the Cup that Israel should do more to engage its Arab neighbors through sport and in enhancing sport facilities in its Arab sectors (Ron Koffman, "A Stadium Is Not Enough," 23 May). The question, Ha'aretz asks, is if such sporting success points to advances in equality or glosses over the deprivations:

Research by Prof. Amir Ben-Porat of the College of Management, who followed Hapoel Teibeh in the Premiere League in the 1990s, and by Dr. Tamir Sorek, who studied Bnei Sakhnin when it was in the Second Division a few years ago, indicates that for now the Arab public in Israel has clearly decided to participate and succeed. The studies show that the Arabs in Israel have not turned soccer into a locale for political differentiation. Just the opposite—instead of being dragged down by the nationalist provocations of the Jewish audience at some of the playing fields, the Arabs try to use the meeting to create a new discourse of integration. Like the blacks in basketball and athletics in the United States, the possibility for free competition and the chance to win create a feeling of a unified goal. They also nurture the delusion that meritocracy—the principle of success based on qualifications—will work in every sphere and will extricate the whole community from its economic and political inferiority. (Danny Rabinowitz, "Boost for the Arabs," 20 May)

Update: In October 2005, Qatar pledged $6 million to help build a 13,000-seat stadium for Bnei Sakhnin. Israel has also dedicated $3.3 million to the $12 million to $13 million total. The funding is the first by an Arab state for a town inside Israel. Gulf states have donated to Palestinian areas, but it took the persuasion of Israeli-Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi to secure the Qatari donation for Sakhnin. "[W]e are Palestinians originally and . . . Sakhnin is very important," said Tibi. "This part of the Palestinian people has been neglected for more than 50 years by the Arab world."

Israelis Come Home, with New Knowledge
The Israel national team thumped Azerbaijan 6–0 in a significant match for both sides. For Israel, 18,000 attended the national team's first international match at home since the previous March. "In my wildest dreams, I didn't believe so many people would come to the game," said Israel Football Association chairman Yitzhak Menachem (Doron Bergerfreund, "Israel Romps as Soccer Comes Home," Ha'aretz, 19 February). Security concerns had prevented Israeli clubs and the national side from hosting matches—UEFA's restrictions still stand, although they will be reevaluated in April (ed.: the UEFA ban was officially lifted on 21 April)—but Sepp Blatter affirmed last week that Israel could play international friendlies as well as World Cup 2006 qualifiers on home soil (Ofer Ronen-Abels, "FIFA OKs Matches in Israel," Jerusalem Post, 12 February). The lads from AzerbaijanAlthough Azerbaijan could not be pleased with the result, only the previous weekend it had acquired a new coach: 1970 Brazil captain Carlos Alberto Torres, who has also coached in Egypt, Oman and Nigeria. (For excellent background, see the Azerbaijan page created for UEFA's Golden Jubilee.) Media in Israel, for the time being, also seemed tolerant of coach Avraham Grant, dressed down by domestic football officials for secretly attending the recent African Cup of Nations in Tunisia, a country with which Israel has no diplomatic relations. Ha'aretz writes, somewhat sarcastically:

The sharp-eyed observer would have noted that the national team did not pass the ball like that before Grant's African trip. Since that fateful visit, Grant's players have become mercurial in mind and body. A quick glance at the notes that Grant took while in Tunisia would show that the national team played with a rare blend of Moroccan virtuosity, Tunisian pressure, Algerian defending and Libyan mentality. (Avi Ratzon, "The Last Word: Out of Africa," 19 February)

  • Beit-She'an, Israel | 8 November 2003 . . . Nahanni Rous reports for WBUR-FM (Boston) on some of the ugliness surrounding the Israel Premier League's Beitar Jerusalem, which, unlike other league clubs, has yet to sign an Arab player ("Israeli Soccer," Only a Game; link opens Real Media player). Rous attends a 1 November fixture between Beitar and Maccabi Ahi Nazareth; both clubs are threatened with relegation at the bottom of the league table. One Beitar supporter says of Ahi Nazareth, one of the first teams from an Arab city to make the top flight:

    The place for them is not here. They should go play in Jordan, not here, if they want a country. And they should make them a league there. They're not Israelis, they're Arabs. We're Jews. It's not possible to be together.

    Yet an "undercover" observer reports on Beitar supporters' racist chants. And a nonprofit group,the New Israel Fund, monitors racist fan behavior for publication in Israeli newspapers (see Yair Ettinger, "Maybe the Revolution Will Start in the Sports Stadium," Ha'aretz, 5 May 2003). Rifat Turk, an Arab Israeli who played for Israel for 10 years, says the football field offers hope: "I'm a million percent sure that through sports you can make life better. Put money into sports, and sports will do the work itself."

  • Ramat-Gan, Israel | 31 October 2003 . . . Israelis love the big clubs like Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Tel Aviv Click for more information on IFAand Beitar Jerusalem, but apparently they also want their Arsenal and Real Madrid, too. According to Ha'aretz, Hapoel co-owner Moshe Teumim this week sent a letter to the Israel Football Association asking that games from England and Spain be blacked out during local pay-per-view broadcasts. The IFA is resisting, but negotiations continue. "In my opinion, the sides will thrash out some understanding," an "industry insider" tells Ha'aretz. | back to top